Monday, October 31, 2011

Mikado Japanese Cuisine: Edmonton

Alberta's first Japanese restaurant, Mikado has been serving the best sushi in Edmonton since 1972. What separates Mikado from other restaurants, is that all of their fish is flown in fresh weekly from Tsukiji, Japan, home to the world's largest fish market, as well as from California, Nova Scotia, and of course the BC coast. Because of this connection, you'll find sashimi of Japanese octopus, deep-water scallops from the coast of Japan, kanpachi, hamachi, plus a special striped sea bass from California, via Tsukiji. 

Mikado in south Edmonton

A little gem tucked away in downtown Edmonton, Mikado has a sleek and inviting atmosphere, and most importantly, delicious food. They also import genuine Robata grills from Japan, which allows the chefs to cook at very high temperatures while keeping the meats both tender and juicy. A long sushi bar, comfortable booths and private tatami rooms are available to enjoy Mikado's delectable menu of innovative sushi and sashimi by certified Japanese chefs. 

Bento box with vegetable tempura, chicken teriyaki and mixed sashimi

Bento boxes are wildly popular, with neatly compartmentalized portions of beef shogayaki, chicken yakitori, barbecued shrimp, salmon teriyaki, rice and salad. But the menu includes other traditional options as well as more modern inventions. The signature dish, Ocean Wind, is a fabulous combination of squid, tuna and salmon wrapped around fresh veggies, seared and served with Dragon Sauce; the Sushi Pizza with salmon, onion and seaweed on a grilled rice crust is a winning creation with legions of fans.

Spicy Scallop Sushi

Mikado California Roll with wasabi and picked ginger

Mikado Tuna Tartare with marinated red onion and scallions

Ikura salmon roe sushi

Chirashi - bowl of rice with chef's selection of sliced sashimi

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Boathouse in Kitsilano Beach

Overlooking beautiful Kits Beach, The Boathouse Restaurant is superbly located along the shore of Kitsilano Beach Park, boasting some of the best panoramic views in Vancouver — from the panoramic vistas of the ocean, Burard Inlet and Gulf Islands to the spectacular North Shore mountains. This beautifully designed beachside restaurant with sliding floor-to-celings doors, offers diners front row seats to Vancouver's breathtaking sunsets or seasonal storm watching. A year round café occupies the ground floor, perfect for enjoying a glorious summer day at the beach without having to pack a lunch, while the upstairs restaurant specializes in fresh seafood from the West coast of B.C.

The Boathouse in Kits Beach at twilight

An unbeatable view

With a commitment to serving only wild & sustainable seafood, the Boathouse selects all Oceanwise fish and supports the Pacific Salmon Foundation in replenishing salmon stocks in the rivers & streams in BC. In fact, their moniker is — Wild. Local. Sustainable. They also use only the best local produce from B.C.'s waters, farms and vineyards. 

The Boathouse team of chefs

Open for brunch, lunch and dinner, the Boathouse menu features a wide variety of  west coast and fusion inspired dishes, from their wonderful Westcoast Seafood Chowder, Ahi Tuna Tacos and Firecracker Shrimp, to Ponzu Wild Salmon, Coconut Pacific Cod to Crab Cake Benny, a popular choice at Sunday brunch.

Boathouse menu with debossed fish logo

BC Pinot Grigio

The Boathouse Westcoast Seafood Chowder with a shot of Sherry

 Seafood Chop-Chop Salad with grilled BC salmon, bay shrimp and scallops

Wild Pacific Halibut, fire-grilled with wild BC shiitake mushroom wild rice

Cedar plank wild maple Salmon with mango salsa and roasted vegetables

Boathouse Thai Styles Crab Cakes
Serves 4

300 grams 
Dungeness crab, squeezed

200 gr cooked baby shrimp
22 gr chopped cilantro
22 gr chopped basil
1 tsp minced lime zest
90 ml mayonnaise
1 tsp lemon pepper
1 pinch sea salt
20 gr minced shallots
1 tsp cracked chili pepper
1 sm egg beaten
120 gr Panko flakes

Squeeze the crab and shrimp to remove excess liquid. 
Combine all ingredients and mix well. Portion onto 90 gram balls and then form into small cakes. Dip each cake into egg wash then roll in Panko flakes. Heat a small amount of oil in a non-stick skillet and cook crab cakes over medium heat until golden brown, then flip them over and finish in a 350°F oven for about 5 minutes. Serve with a chipotle mayonnaise or tartare sauce.

Boathouse Grilled Salmon & Pepper Scallops
Serves 4

Grilled Salmon:
4 6 oz. boneless, skinless salmon fillets
4 tbsp melted butter
salt & pepper to taste
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Black Pepper Scallops:
1 lb large Sea Scallops
2 tbsp fresh ground black pepper
flour, as needed
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sweet soy sauce
1 cup water
1 cup light soy sauce
1 cup water
1 cup light soy sauce
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 cup cold water
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1 tbsp chopped chives
1 fresh lemon cut in 4 wedges

Grilled Salmon:
Lightly brush salmon fillets with butter, sprinkle with salt & pepper. 
Grill on BBQ or under broiler for approximately 4 minutes each side, until center of fish is medium rare. 
Arrange grilled salmon on one half of plates with Black Pepper Scallops arranged around the fillet in a semi-circle. Garnish with sesame seeds and chopped chives, and lemon wedge. 
On other half of plate, compliment with Wasabi or Garlic Mashed Potatoes and seasonal grilled vegetables.

Black Pepper Scallops:
In a small pot, bring sweet soy, light soy and _ cup of water to boil. 
Mix cornstarch into _ cup of cold water and then add into soy mixture. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. 
In large skillet, heat oil until very hot but not smoking. 
In a large bowl, add scallops and sprinkel with eppper until evenly coated. Add flour to the scallops and tossing lightly, using only enough to lightly coat. 
Add scallops to skillet and saute for 2 minutes on each side. 
Drain excess oil from pan. Add in soy mixture and simmer until well coated.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Salty Tongue Café in Vancouver's Gastown

Gastown was born out of a whiskey barrel. It literally sprang up around a saloon. Founded by a gold prospector, saloonkeeper and riverboat captain who went by the unfortunate nickname of 'Gassy Jack,' Gastown was the nucleus of Vancouver — it’s where it all began. The roots can still be seen in the cobblestone streets, the old architecture and the antique streetlights, like a pocket of history wedged between the sleek, urban high-rise towers of downtown and the train yards along Burrard Inlet. It was the bad part of town for as long as anyone could remember, but recent revitalization and an army of cutting-edge creatives, chefs and mixologists, have turned what was once skid row into one the city’s hippest neighbourhoods. 

'Gassy Jack' - immortalized in this Broze statue in the heart of Gastown

Salty Tongue Café is one of nine restaurants owned by HHG - the Heather Hospitality Group - the brainchild of Sean Heather, a young Irishman who created a unique brand of small hole-in-the-wall restaurants and cafés in the city's funky low-rent, and now fashionable, Gastown district. Salty Tongue is just one of Heather's food empire which includes Everything Café, Salt Tasting Rooms, Judas Goat Taberna, Shebeen Whisky, Fetch Hot Dogs, The Irish Heather GastroPub and Salty Tongue.

Salty Tongue's front counter

We ran into Mike Mitchell, Beverage Director of HHG, outside of Salt Tasting Room, located on the ominous sounding Blood Alley, home to many rumours, myths and tall tales. Mitchell is a personable young guy who reflects the hip casual vibe that defines HHG. The concept is simple: hearty home-cooked meals, a cool location and a friendly casual ambiance — and all at an economical price. The formula seems to be working. Mitchell told us that HHG has two more locations in the works - Rainier Delicatessan, a large deli on a primo corner in central Gastown, due to open in early 2012, and Bitter, a new specialty beer pub, slated to open anytime soon.

HHG's Gastown food empire

Toronto-born, Heather grew up in Ireland and moved back to Canada in 1991, when the Irish economy was so depressed that he couldn’t get a job. At the age of 27, Heather got tired of toiling for someone else and decided to strike out on his own. Kitsilano seemed the obvious place to start, but the area was just too expensive. In desperation, he went to his real estate agent, and said ‘show me anything,’ and he replies, ‘well anything? Would you go to Gastown?’” It was almost within a week of opening the doors that Heather thought, ‘what have I done?’ The neighbourhood was seedier than he imagined, and he had to chase drug dealers from outside his door. 

Sean Heather, captain of the HHG empire

Fifteen years later and the area has been replaced with a new wave of eager young restauranteurs, hip bars and cool cafés. Heather's concept has proved to be an enormous success — winning a $50,000 first prize from Cadillac Fairview for achievement in a retail concept, third place in enRoute magazine’s top 10 best new restaurants in Canada, and accolades too numerous to mention. Another key to Heather’s success is that most of his businesses are a short walk from each other, which makes it easier for him to keep a closer eye on all their operations.

The kitchen at Salty Tongue does double-duty. 
It also serves The Irish Heather GastroPub, which is next door

Executive Chef Colleen McClean 

And at the culinary helm — Colleen McClean, who is executive chef of Heather's Gastown restaurants. Formerly of Lumière, Feenies and Rare, Chef McClean oversees the kitchens at the Salt Tasting Room, Shebeen Whiskey House, The Irish Heather GastroPub, and Salty Tongue Urban Deli.

The bistro-style chalkboard with ever changing dishes

Salty Tongue is a long narrow space, with a large chalkboard featuring an impressive list of gourmet sandwiches, grilled panini, mouthwatering cured meats, homemade soups and a host of comfort foods from Shepherds Pie to Steak & Guinness Pot Pie — there's something for everyone. The bread is freshly baked, the sandwiches are custom made, and all of the ingredients are made in-house, including the condiments. The focus of the room is a 40-foot communal douglas fir table which was salvaged from the building's original support beams. Food service is casual. Patrons order at the counter and the chef brings your meal to you at the long table.

The long Douglas Fir communal table 

As with so many B.C. restaurants, promoting local produce is key, and Salty Tongue is no different. One whole section of the chalkboard menu highlights 'Friends & Farmers' - like Sawmill Bay Shellfish, Sloping Hill Farms, JN&Z Deli and Moccia Salumeria. It's gratifying to know where you're food is coming from, and who the people are. Inspired by seeing Little Qualicum Cheeseworks on so many menus while I was out West, I made a point of visiting the small family-run farm on a recent visit to Vancouver Island — you can even meet the cows!

Little Qualicum Cheeseworks on Vancouver Island

You can custom create your own sandwich at Salty Tongue, or choose from the impressive list of dishes from their enormous chalkboard, with daily specials that run from a full Irish breakfast, to home made pot pies, pastas and other hearty home cooked dishes. A creamy Artichoke and Cheese Soup caught my eye, as well as the tasty Croque Madame with JN&Z Prague ham, aged Qualicum Cheeseworks cheddar, on home baked bread and topped with an organic fried egg, and a bowl of delicious frites. The crowning glory — change from $15.00 

Salty Tongue Croque Madame

Artichoke Soup with crunchy organic frites

The restaurant also runs the enormously popular Long Table Series each week, where you can share a home cooked meal for just $16 including an artisan beer or BC wine of your choice. More like a big family dinner, everyone sits together at the communal table — you might not know who you're sitting next to, but you will within about two minutes!

The ever popular Long Table Series, a home cooked meal and beer for just $16 each!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie: Vancouver's Chinatown

Widely recognized as one of the continent’s significant dining destinations, Vancouver is a foodie’s paradise. Blessed by ethnic diversity, the city plays host to a myriad of styles and influences, underpinned by a cornucopia of local produce and a wealth of marine species, while a thriving local wine industry promises perfect culinary pairings. In the midst of the city's culinary diversity, Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie has emerged as the anchor for Vancouver's re-energized Chinatown and one of the its hottest new restaurants. Bao Bei, which means 'precious' in Mandarin, opened in January 2010 in the heart of Chinatown with the hope of recreating that special charm that the area used to have.

Tannis Ling of Bao Bei - photo: KK Law

Recently named one of the top 10 new restaurants in Canada by enRoute magazine, Bao Bei lives up to its reputation. Set in a lovingly refurbished setting, this modern Chinese brasserie boasts a cool menu and even cooler decor. The small plates convey a decidedly novel Asian influence, and the well-stocked bar filled with creative concoctions and smartly chosen wines completes the picture. Bao Bei owner Tannis Ling worked her way to the top of Vancouver's culinary ladder by tending bar for years at Chambar, an acclaimed Vancouver restaurant and bar, before opening Boa Bei, a funky high-ceilinged restaurant, with oversized windows, long cocktail bar, and specializing in Taipei and Shanghai-inspired cuisine.  

Bao Bei Chef Joël Watanabe - photo: Antoinette Bruno

Executive Chef Joël Watanabe, uses French techniques and a Japanese eye for plating and presentation, creating unique dishes that integrate authenticity with a modern twist. The menu is a curious amalgam of Shanghainese, Taiwanese and Vietnamese dishes, many with French inflections, which is understandable, since Chef Watanabe is half Japanese and half French.

Chinese knick-knacks detail Bao Bei's interior

The room is a labour of love with elements of a traditional French brasserie intertwined with vintage Chinese motifs, clean modern lighting and playful details that are a nod to the owner’s family. Ling's cleverly christened 'schnacks', 'petits plats Chinois' and 'petit cadeaux' are wildly popular and guarantee a full house every night. Her mother’s cooking is the main inspiration behind Bao Bei's food concept. Nothing is set in stone, but she says you can expect “lots of noodles, dumplings, drunken chicken – stuff like that”. 

Bao Bei's innovative small-plate MSG-free menu

Although the menu sees some experimentation, she carefully points out that there’s “nothing crazy — I’m trying to keep it as authentic as possible”. Watanabe’s menu, inspired by the cooking of Ling’s mother, is heavily influenced by a recent research trip to the streets of Taiwan, accented with some flavours from Vietnam, and tweaked with a decidedly Japanese izakaya accent. The menu is a tasty read, beginning with an assortment of appetizers, or bar 'schnacks' at just $4 each, such as Marinated Eggplant with soy, garlic and ginger; Braised Beef Tendons with Chinese celery, cilantro and mala paste; or Tofu Skin with king oyster mushrooms in a truffle vinaigrette.

Prawn and shrimp gyoza-style steamed dumplings

Petits plats chinois, or small plates, include Mantou: Delicate steamed buns filled with pork belly, bean sprouts, preserved turnips and sugared peanuts; Kick Ass Fried Rice; and special daily 'plats chinois' like Steamed Ling Cod with ginger, scallions and meaty Chinese Woodear mushrooms, garnished with a crunchy tempura topping, which was featured the evening we dined at Bao Bei.

BC Ling Cod steamed with ginger, scallions and meaty Chinese Woodear mushrooms, garnished with a crunchy tempura topping

Sautéed King Pea Tips  with garlic and Shaoxing

Petits cadeaux are the dumplings and potstickers, with delectable offerings like Steamed Prawn & Chive Dumplings; Steamed truffled pork dumplings; and Duck & mushroom wontons in duck consommé with yellow chives — each served in bamboo baskets and perfect for sharing. Sautéed vegetables are also popular, like King Pea Tips with garlic and Shaoxing; Lotus root with Chinese chive, curry and black bean Bitter Melon with Westphalia ham, chicken stock and garlic. 

Mantou - steamed buns with pork belly, bean sprouts, preserved turnip and sugared peanuts

Cocktails at Bao Bei are a whole other story. Ling incorporates herbs from an apothecary shop into some of her drinks. "It's stuff my mom gave us as kids. We're now spinning them into classic cocktails with a twist." Of note is her new signature drink Kai Yuen Sour, which is named after her auntie, made with a dried plum infused simple syrup, Forty Creek rye, egg whites and lemon juice. 

And when our server brought us the bill we were handed a cool little postcard with old black and white photos of Ling's grandparents on the back and a 'Learn To Speak Chinese' guide, on the back, full of useful phrases like “It’s not you it’s me,” “I’m not drunk yet,” and “I love you.” All useful phrases in the past, and might be again if I'm ever inspired to try and speak Chinese! But I did learn that Bao Bei is hǎochī — delicious!

Kai Yuen Sour
Makes 1 cocktail

Plum water:
4 dried Chinese plums — find them at the T&T dried fruit section
1 cup water

Simmer dried plums in water for 15 minutes and cool. Can be done ahead of time.

2 ounces Forty Creek rye
1/2 ounce lemon juice
1 ounce plum water
1 egg white
2 dashes of Angostura

Add all ingredients to shaker and shake vigorously to froth egg white. Strain in rocks glass over ice. Garnish with shaved preserve date — also found in any Chinatown store or T&T Supermarket.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek Estate Winery

Perched on the picturesque Tinhorn Creek Estate on the Okanagan's famed Golden Mile, Miradoro, which translates as 'golden view', offers sweeping views of the exquisitely scenic South Okanagan Valley and features Mediterranean influenced cuisine that showcases the freshest local ingredients of the Okanagan area. A joint venture between Tinhorn Creek and Manuel Ferreira, of Le Gavroche in Vancouver, Miradoro is a destination restaurant that also features the best of B.C.’s wine country. 

Miradoro's spectacular terrace view

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards south of Oliver - 'The Wine Capital of Canada'

Executive Chef Jeff Van Geest, works closely with local farmers and producers to make Miradoro a restaurant that pays homage to the bounty of the Okanagan. The menu draws inspiration from countries like Spain, Portugal and Italy, cuisines designed to pair perfectly with wine. The food is local, rustic, simple, straightforward and seasonal, and reflects Chef Van Geest’s belief that there’s nothing better than simple, well-prepared cuisine made with the best ingredients from one's local fields, forests and oceans. 

Executive Chef Jeff Van Geest putting the finishing touches on a Miradoro dish

Miradoro's appetizing starters feature Crispy Calamari with Thorpe's organic cucumber and bread salad, finished with preserved lemon and herb yogurt; Steamed Westcoast Mussels; Celery Root, Apple & Beet Salad with Sesen Farm's organic greens with a walnut and anchovy dressing; and each day a seasonally inspired soup created by Chef Van Geest, like the rich and fragrant Sweet Corn Soup with chanterelle mushrooms and paprika that I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon we visited Miradoro.

Miradoro's sweet corn soup with chanterelle mushrooms and paprika

Grilled cheese with Kootenay Alpine Cheese Co's Nostrala on foccacia with quince mostarda & crispy onions with prosciutto with Moroccan spiced chickpeas & organic sugar pumpkin salad

Classic Neopolitan-style Pizza Funghi with cremini, oyster and portobello mushrooms, grilled asparagus and goat cheese

Miradoro's Chocolate Mousse

Entrées include an outrageously buttery and delicious Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Kootenay Alpine Cheese Co's Nostrala on focaccia with quince mostarda & crispy onions and prosciutto; Spiced Merguez Sausage, soft polenta, braised greens and Poplar Grove tiger blue cheese, from Penticton; and for lighter fare, a selection of light sandwiches such as Chicken Salad on focaccia with basil pesto and pepper aioli, as well as homemade pizzas from the Miradora pizza oven plus Chef Van Geest's Daily Tasting Menu, with multi-course selections and optional wine pairings.

General Manager and Sommelier of Miradoro, Justin McAuliffe

Miradoro’s wine list, developed by General Manager and Sommelier Justin McAuliffe, showcases the award-winning wines of Tinhorn Creek, with both current and rare library releases available. The list also includes a hand-picked selection of standout wines from other wineries across B.C., but the focus is undoubtedly on Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, which overlooks their lush vineyards, sagebrush and the old gold mining creek – its namesake. 

Tinhorn Creek Winery

The winery, located just south of Oliver and home to Canada's only desert, sources fruit exclusively from its own vineyards, which lends to the creation of their exceptional terroir-driven wines. Tinhorn Creek offers regular wine tours and tastings, which is the natural place to start when visiting the winery.

The glass catwalk entrance to Miradoro

Tinhorn's breathtaking estate includes the 100-acre Diamondback Vineyard on the Black Sage Bench, which is planted with a mix of red and white varieties, primarily Pinot Gris, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, wheres the 50-acre Tinhorn Creek Vineyard on the Golden Mile Bench, features Gewürztraminer. With Miradoro's modern wine country cuisine and Tinhorn's award-winning wines, Tinhorn Creek is definitely worth a stop on any wine tour of the South Okanagan Valley, as both pay homage to the fruitful bounty of the Okanagan, as well as it's unrelenting beauty.

Spot Prawn Carpaccio
Serves 6
Recipe courtesy of Chef Jeff Van Geest, Miradoro Restaurant at Tinhorn Creek

3 oz fresh spot prawn meat
1 long English cucumber
12 Kalamata olives
A small handful of micro radish greens
1/2 cup lightly flavoured extra virgin olive oil 
1 cup day old sourdough bread torn into small croutons 
1/2 cup full fat yogurt
juice and zest of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper

The day before clean veins from prawns, place between two sheets of parchment paper and beat gently with a rolling pin to break down the flesh. Keep the flesh between the parchment sheets and roll out to a sheet with a thickness of 2 millimetres. Freeze the sheet on a baking tray.

Remove pits from olives and chop fairly fine. Dehydrate in a very low oven or dehydrator overnight. Pulse in the food processor until the dried olives are a texture like coarse cornmeal. Reserve

The next day cut the cucumbers with the julienne attachment on a mandolin.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and the lemon juice. Reserve.  

On very low fry the croutons in olive oil. Mix yogurt with the lemon zest. To assemble, remove the prawn sheet from the freezer. Cut into 6 equal sized, neat rectangles and place each one on a plate. Drizzle the cucumber with a little olive oil. Place a twisted up bundle of cucumber on each prawn sheet. Garnish with a drizzle of yogurt, some olive powder, some croutons and the radish greens.